At Brighton Constable was particularly fascinated by the beach with its boats and fishermen. In this oil sketch he depicted beached boats with sails partly set, and showed a fisherman in the foreground, possibly mending his nets. He portrayed a tumbling sea and brisk wind with rapidly moving clouds. Using heavy impasto he captured the immediate sensations of light and atmosphere.
This is the oil sketch that Lucas used as a basis for the mezzotint, A sea beach .In the text for the mezzotint Constable observed that ‘the continual change and ever-varying aspect’ of the surface of the ocean suggested ‘the most impressive and agreeable sentiments’ (Beckett, Discourses, p. 19). He claimed that nothing in creation is ‘so imposing as the Ocean’ and nothing in nature presents ‘a scene that is more exhilarating than a sea-beach, or so replete with interesting material to fill the canvass of the Painter’ (ibid.). Constable began this text for the mezzotint with a quotation from George Crabbe’s The Borough (1810) – describing the sea at Aldeburgh, Suffolk:
But nearer land you may the billows trace,
As if contending in their watery chase;
Curl’d as they come they strike with furious force
And then reflowing, take their grating course.